Credit for prior learning: A huge motivator for students

Getting credit for prior learning (CPL) is “a huge motivator for students,” said Mary Beth Lakin, Director of College and University Partnerships at the American Council on Education (ACE).

Flexible options like online, evening, or weekend classes are one way to support adult students. But contemporary students can really capitalize on the knowledge and skills they’ve already earned with CPL -- saving them time and money. Depending on a college’s academic policies, CPL may include options like work experience, CLEP exams, individual portfolios, and military training (documented on the Joint Services Transcript, or JST).

“CPL is one way to serve this group of students better and get them to come back and complete,” Lakin said. “Often, learning experiences -- such as in the workforce, military, or industry certifications -- are equivalent to college-level learning. So it doesn’t make sense to make adults start in a degree program as though they know nothing.”

Mind the gaps

CPL provides a adult learners a pathway to completion and helps fill in gaps where typical programs and services overlook them. Those gaps exist because the contemporary student no longer looks like the “traditional” student colleges served twenty years ago. Many contemporary students are adults with responsibilities and roles -- possibly in the military, at work or at home -- that precede their identity as “student.”

“These students have a lot of other things going on,” Lakin said. “CPL helps expand and enhance the programs and services you would offer adults that would really attract them.” It helps students make the most of their time and financial resources, so they can move quickly toward their educational and career goals.

“CPL can really help people transition fields or move up in their career at a faster pace,” Lakin said. “That’s good for colleges, students, employers, and the whole community.”

Outreach opportunity: Examples

“There’s an opportunity for outreach; the data shows there are a lot of adults who started but did not complete college,” Lakin said. Faculty, deans and administrators, and admissions and other enrollment professionals can play a role in considering what benefits CPL might provide on their campuses and in their communities.

Lakin will be discussing CPL at this fall’s AACRAO SEM Conference, along with representatives from the following three institutions with innovative approaches to recruiting, retaining, and graduating contemporary students:

  • Rio Salado College has worked directly with employers to understand their training and create cocurricular opportunities, with particular success in early childhood development. (Rick Kemp, Dean, Instruction and Partnerships)

  • Eastfield College, Dallas Community College District has developed a strong prior learning assessment (PLA) portal project, to get campus-wide understanding of CPL among deans, faculty, advising, student services, enrollment and other professions. (Dr. Tricia Thomas-Anderson, Dean, Resource Development)

  • The University of Memphis program “Finish Line” has developed employer partnerships and really focused on community outreach to let adults know the opportunity is there. (Dr. Richard Irwin, Vice Provost for Academic Innovation and Support Services.)

At the session “Credit for Prior Learning (CPL): A SEM Tool for the 21st Century,” these professionals will bring information about their different approaches to using CPL on their campuses. They’ll also discuss how to build relationships with employers and other community and campus partners.

“We’ll talk about ways to expand CPL options and how to consider areas, populations, and partnerships you maybe haven’t before,” Lakin said. “It will be useful whether you’re just getting started with CPL or if you’ve been doing it for awhile.”

Participants will:

  • Understand current best practices in credit for prior learning.

  • Understand the role of credit for prior learning in attracting and retaining students.

  • Apply new strategies in the use of credit for prior learning to recruit new student populations.

And return to their campuses with talking points for enhancing contemporary student learning through CPL.

Discover more meaningful SEM sessions, discussion and tools at the AACRAO SEM Conference, Oct. 29-Nov. 1 in Phoenix, AZ.